Fall in love with Leonardo’s legacy

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

lives on. In an open stu­dio, Tom­maso Brogini stud­ies a can­vas, adding brush strokes to one of his lat­est works. “For a while, he would only paint Michelan­gelo’s David,” whis­pers Kamin. Fur­ther up the road, cogs whirr and bells chime from a gothic cave where gold­smith and sculp­tor Alessan­dro Dari chan­nels his imag­i­na­tion into jew­els and met­als. His fam­ily has sup­plied Floren­tine no­bil­ity and the church with pieces since 1630, and to­day his eclec­tic in­flu­ences range from Luca della Rob­bia’s glazed pot­tery to steam­punk Vic­to­ri­ana.

Un­like his neigh­bours, street artist Clet Abra­ham bor­rows noth­ing from the past – al­though the city’s street fur­ni­ture did pro­vide his first can­vas, Kamin points out. Us­ing stick­ers, the French­man sub­verts traf­fic signs, trans­form­ing a Turn Left ar­row into an elec­tric guitar and us­ing a No Through Road as a cru­ci­fix. His stu­dio sells the de­signs on T-shirts and note­books. Al­though they are fiercely mod­ern, I can’t help think­ing th­ese three artists are tap­ping into a legacy shaped by Donatello, Michelan­gelo and Leonardo da Vinci more than six cen­turies ago.

Ac­cord­ing to Floren­tine his­to­ri­ans, the Re­nais­sance started here in 1401, when Lorenzo Ghib­erti wowed judges with his three-di­men­sional bib­li­cal scenes, win­ning a com­pe­ti­tion to de­sign the bronze bap­tistry doors. Thanks partly to the pa­tron­age of the Medici and wealthy guilds, the city was fer­tile ground for artists whose works are on dis­play in the Uf­fizi, Italy’s most pop­u­lar art mu­seum, on the busy right bank.

It wasn’t only free­dom and tol­er­ance that gave Re­nais­sance Florence its cre­ative buzz; it was the abun­dance of in­spir­ing sub­jects, too. Sit­ting in front of a win­dow fram­ing a Tus­can land­scape, Filippo Lippi’s Madonna wears a dis­tinctly el­e­gant blue vel­vet Floren­tine cloak, while the flow­ing blonde locks of Bot­ti­celli’s Venus be­long to Si­mon­etta Ve­spucci, a lo­cal no­ble­woman who died trag­i­cally young, her beauty for­ever frozen in time. Sim­i­larly strik­ing women waft through the city’s cob­bled streets to­day, wear­ing floaty Cavalli dresses, huge shades and a swish of lip gloss. When she ar­rived, Kamin was mes­merised by th­ese char­ac­ters who pa­raded straight into the pages of her book. “Her gait, her com­po­sure, the very tilt of her head is an ode to grace and self-pos­ses­sion that makes her beau­ti­ful, what­ever her ac­tual fea­tures re­veal,” she writes.

It’s an at­ti­tude em­bod­ied by the Con­ti­nen­tale, a chic ho­tel in­spired by Italy’s Fifties cin­e­matic sirens, where I hope to soak up some of that el­e­gantly fem­i­nine vibe. From my bed­room win­dow over­look­ing the Ponte Vec­chio’s jew­ellery shops, I’m in the thick of the ac­tion: Vespa horns blast im­pa­tiently, haughty sig­no­ras click their kit­ten heels on cobbles and Cim­bali cof­fee ma­chines purr in that ir­re­sistibly Ital­ian way.

Florence has a long re­la­tion­ship with the world of fash­ion, and ves­tiges of its once-pow­er­ful guilds can be found all over the city – from the coats of arms stamped above door­ways to street names re­flect­ing trades – al­though only a few tra­di­tional ar­ti­sans re­main in op­er­a­tion.

By spe­cial ap­point­ment you can visit the An­tico Seti­fi­cio Fiorentino on Via Lorenzo Bar­tolini, where master weavers still use wooden looms to cre­ate silks for the Krem­lin and Clar­idge’s. En­rap­tured by the lu­mi­nos­ity of their colours, Kamin in­sists this is one of the few places where “you can touch the Re­nais­sance”.

Or there’s the Scuola del Cuoio, a small leather work­shop hid­den at the back of Basil­ica di Santa Croce, yards away from the tombs of Galileo, Machi­avelli, Michelan­gelo and Rossini. Since the 13th cen­tury, tanned hides have been shipped along the river to this pi­azza, and af­ter the Sec­ond World War, Fran­cis­can monks de­cided to open part of their church as a leather school for or­phans. In­side, a sweet scent coils through vaulted cor­ri­dors, where crafts­men cut bags and belts be­neath re­li­gious fres­coes.

Florence’s finest achieve­ments,

Madonna with Child, above; an iris in bloom, right

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